Like coal pressed into diamonds, when we’re put under pressure — like say, the sudden onset of a global pandemic— great and surprising concepts can be created. Enter Table 22, a new subscription service that, unlike many third-party services, aims to create a beneficial relationship for its local restaurant partners, including six Colorado eateries that are currently partnered with the service: Urban Farmer, American Elm, Mercantile and Goed Zuur in Denver and the Emporium in Fort Collins.
The business previously functioned as a “national-scale, venture-backed real estate marketplace,” per the now-Table 22 website, before the pandemic forced it out of business, but its team of intelligent, creative, business-minded folks soon realized they could use their powers for the betterment of the hospitality industry.
The premise is multi-fold: provide restaurants with an additional revenue stream, open up a new way to engage customers beyond the restaurant's physical space, and do so sustainably. When a restaurant partners with Table 22, it receives specialized consulting to create a totally customized subscription service available for pick-up locally or for delivery. The range of possibilities includes everything from a rotating selection of curated wines to a sampling of the restaurant’s dinner menu.
With nearly every restaurant pivoting to delivery and curbside pick-up during the pandemic restaurant shutdowns, the concept of specialty food and beverage subscriptions didn’t require much persuading, especially since it is one way to eliminate fee-ridden delivery middlemen and create a more personalized experience between a restaurant and its customers.
Executive chef Ryan Rau of Urban Farmer Steakhouse, 1659 Wazee Street, says he and his team were contacted by Table 22 in late 2020, when they were in the midst of looking for a similar service. “We were exploring alternative, off-premises options to stay connected to our guests as the latest wave of pandemic shutdowns forced us to close our dining room again,” Rau explains. The team at Urban Farmer had considered launching a wine club for a few years, but Rau said it was Table 22 that had the right infrastructure “without a big lift for our already stretched team.”
Urban Farmer launched its Wine Share subscription program, which offers three tiers of curated wine selections and accompanying snack or cheese pairings, in November 2020. Chef Rau says choosing to do a wine share program as opposed to a more food-focused subscription seemed like the most natural place to start. “The framework was something we had already imagined," he says. "Now that we’ve had about six months under our belts, we’re planning some changes to the program to bring our guests an even better experience ... Now that the pandemic is waning and operations are starting to return to normal, we are excited to focus more on themes that align with our values, like sustainability and community, and expand our sourcing to special allocations, small-winery partners and more.”
Sustainability goals for participating restaurants actually coincide quite well with Table 22’s setup. Because subscribers buy products ahead of fulfillment, it gives restaurants a chance to “reduce waste, get better deals from suppliers, and never be in a cash crush,” according to Table 22’s website. The running theme for current Denver-based Table 22 participants is that most were already searching for exactly the kind of alternative the subscription service provides, and the customization of offerings is a big draw for prospective partners.
For American Elm, at 4132 West 38th Avenue, it was a natural transition from a system it already had in place, called the Weekly Meals program. Owner Bob Reiter says he lets chef Brent Turnipseede, bar manager Travis Gale and general manager Alex Flower drive the monthly offerings. "We try to create offerings that reflect the American Elm experience," Reiter notes. This includes three separate subscriptions, with one dedicated to cocktails, one to wine and the third a monthly Supper Club showcasing chef-prepared three-course meals.
Perhaps even more appealing than the customized experience is how easy Table 22 makes it for restaurants to be successful with their service. Nick Cary, who helped coordinate the Table 22 offerings at Mercantile inside Union Station as general manager (though he has now moved on to another restaurant), appreciates how Table 22 offers a more organized approach than individual meal kits. “Table 22 understands and is willing to assist a restaurant," he says. "They make sure we have everything we need, and believe in restaurants and want to help them continue to develop.”
Cary also emphasizes the fact that Table 22's model leaves a fair amount of profit margin for restaurants to thrive, and the structure of payments is beneficial, too. "They make sure we have all of the funds from the subscriptions of the month prior to fulfilling the following month to avoid any out-of-pocket expenses,” he explains. Table 22 also handles guest communication and provides easily digestible sales reports to restaurants. “You don't really see a lot of innovation in how we do things," Cary continues. "This is challenging the typical dining experience while supplementing and supporting it."
Another win for Table 22: It's supportive of any additional, especially charitable, goals a restaurant might have. For Urban Farmer, it was essential to continue its work with World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit dedicated to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters; the restaurant donates a portion of its Table 22 proceeds to the organization. “We’ve supported World Central Kitchen through Sage Restaurant Concepts’ Hungry to Help program in a variety of ways over the past few years," says Rau. "We think the mission of the organization is incredible, and we’re proud to support the work they do.”
Ultimately, it seems like the convenience of pick-up and delivery from restaurants across the U.S. is here to stay. Table 22 is a new way to experience fine dining that challenges traditional third-party methods and keeps customers and restaurants connected — essentially a win-win for everyone.
Visit table22.com for more information and to sign up for subscription services.
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